FabAfriq Magazine

Celebrated Artist-Baiyee Takem

Talented artists can never go unnoticed. As soon as we entered the exhibition centre, we scanned the room, struggling to get Mr Baiyee's attention from the canvas he was working on. 30 minutes later, he spotted us, smiled  and beckoned to us. With his busy schedule, it was not easy for us to book an interview date but after a lot of negotiating we got a deal! The date was secured, and Joyce Mandi, the face of FabAfriq magazine, as well as our Celebrity correspondent was our best bet to carry out the interview. Thank God she was not on one of her numerous assignments. Sunny Santa Barbara was their preferred location and the venue and time was set to around their hectic engagements. The interview below, is the fruit of this union. Read on!

FAM: Hello Baiyee, it’s really an honor to meet you today on behalf of Fabafriq Magazine. I explored your website and was taken aback by the extent to which you are talented. I hope that by the end of this interview, we would be able to convey the meanings behind your work to our readers.

BT: Thank you for the compliment. First off, being an artist is work in progress as you work to capture moments and events. Therefore, each of my pieces are unique in their own way and they all have their own meaning. They were all created at different times of my painting career, and as such the meanings vary. Generally, I carry out my work at different times of the day and the way I feel during those times vary for the most part. Hence, sometimes I represent the phenomenological aspect of time-lapsing. So each piece is unique but at the end of the day, each one's title has a general concept that I’m trying to attain which is either representing my African culture or aspiring to seek for the absolute in the sense of what life is all about. As a result, I’m trying to break down things and come up with meanings and I hope that the general public can get what I’m trying to do and most of the time, it resonates with somebody somewhere. My work is purely subjective and since it’s not objective, each and everyone has a take on what paint means to him or her.

FAM: I also noticed on your website that you use alot of colour in your paintings. Tell us what colour means to you.

BT: Colour has alot of meaning. For instance, when nations are created around the world, certain colours are used to represent the philosophy of the state. As such by nature, colours either have subjective or objective meanings to every individual. Red might mean passion to one person and disgust to somebody else. I use colour in a very varied manner to represent different kinds of emotions and concepts. Colour to an artist represents emotion.

FAM: If you were given a chance right this moment to execute a painting, what would you paint?

BT: For me that would be suicide because an artist is a rebel. An artist does not listen to command and by that same token, what I am trying to say is that I do not do commission work. I do works that are purely based on emotions and totally subjective and if someone puts a gun to my head and asks me to reproduce a painting, I would rather die because if I don’t feel it, I don’t do it.

FAM: Do any of your paintings represent your African culture?

BT: Yes. I have paintings that are titled after my African dialect, Kenyang. I once did a painting called “The Spirit Of Monenkim”. It was very representative of the Monenkim dancers of Manyu Division in Cameroon. Their colours, dynamism, movements and twirling of their costumes were so moving to me that ten years after watching them perform, I was still able to capture the scene inadvertently on canvas and realize I was capturing the grace of the dance. There is also a painting I titled “Kikum Kevitse”, of the Banso tribe in Cameroon where I spent part of my childhood. The painting was representative of the shrieking noise of the drums when the traditional dancers would come out and I was able to capture their movements. Again movement in dance is something that really drives me in our African tradition.

FAM: Would you say you are a born-artist?

BT: To me, creativity has no meaning. There is a saying that “art is the raison d’etre of an artist”. As such doing art is the meaning of my existence at the moment. I am a late- bloomer artist, meaning I didn’t take any art classes as a kid or wasn’t born with the gift. I don’t remember having any ties with drawing growing up but I remember painting houses when I was young. At age 12, I used to offer to repaint people’s dark-looking houses with bright coloured paint. That is as far back as I can remember. 20 years down the road, I took some art classes and now I am a full blown painter.

FAM: What kind of materials do you use to paint and what advise would you give someone who wants to be a painter but has no clue as to how to go about becoming one?

BT: It’s okay to start with very basic stuff and by that, I mean just look on your desk and start with the ink you find there, for example. Always start small! Do not let the paintings you see in museums intimidate you. Those artists all started with pencils. As far as my work is concerned, I started with charcoal and eventually moved up to oil which is what people think all art represents but once you get into it, you realize that EVERYTHING that you see in your environment can be reproduced and used to create art or as pieces of art. Just like with tattooing, sometimes you see tribes where they use some earth and pigments to paint people’s faces. Sometimes I don’t have control of the materials I use. I could use wine, coffee or chocolate and find myself splashing them on whatever materials I am working on.

FAM: What are the artists that inspire you the most?

BT: I look up to the American modern painters. However, Monet is one of my favourite. He is the father of post modern art even though he happens to be from the era of the impressionists. He moved art from the studio to open air. Then the American painters came and decided to represent events and not the idea of colour on canvas. So Jackson Pollock comes to mind, Robert McDowell, Helen Frankenthaler, as well as Julie Mehretu and Wosene Kosrof who are both from Ethiopia. My compatriot Barthelemy Toguo also inspires me alot. All the above mentioned artists are progressive modern painters and when I intended to move from the realm of the objective to the non-objective, it was very intimidating because at the time, I didn’t know any African abstract painter. So while on a trip to San Francisco, I saw Wosene's art and asked where he was from and was told that he was from Ethiopia and I heaved a sigh of relief. I did a piece called Composition 38 and in that piece, I was basically saying that there was no return to objective art. I was doing a Manifesto to become abstract because if Wosene could do it, I thought I could too.

FAM: How do you market your work?

BT: First off, when you create, you create because you have the urge to do so. You don’t see the market because you don’t create with the intent to sell. It’s a selfish undertaking. I don’t go thinking for example, how is Joyce the interviewer going to react to a certain piece...I really think that is beyond my control. I just care about what I feel towards the painting. Marketing is out of my realm. Once you create a piece, it is for you. There are some paintings that people have done that have never been to galleries. Like some of Monet and Picasso’s works which they created for themselves. So marketing comes afterwards. When you feel the need to show your work to the public, you go to a gallery and if they are interested, you go from there. I am fortunate to have a curator/independent agent called Daniel Molenski who is marketing my work.

FAM: Would you encourage other Africans who want to become painters to go ahead with the ambition knowing that most of the big name painters are from the Western world and that, that could be intimidating in itself?

BT: Dreams are meant to be followed. Being out in the diaspora, we are taught to do what our parents expect us to do and what society wants us to do. I would dare any African to not only look at the four walls of a jobsite and feel complacent but be resilient with a resolve and follow it and silence the naysayers and voice in the head saying “no”. You have to be internally selfish to follow your dreams. Art is like gambling. It is a risk but if you have the knack for it, go for it. Someday it will pay off and even if it doesn’t, at least you would have tried. Just be happy!

FAM: Does your mood ever dictate the colours you use for your work when you are painting?

BT: Not really, because I am not consciously driven by what I am doing. Most often than not, the colours select themselves. It’s like divine intervention. For instance, there might be several colours laying around but I’ll just skip everyone and go for a particular one and I cannot explain why. The idea is to have symmetry and a sense of composition on canvas. Sometimes, colour might gain symmetry and the harmony of colours is like the harmony in music. You’re trying to create something melodic but on a piece of canvas. It’s like a musician doing a composition with different instruments and at some point in an ensemble, he improvises and improvisation becomes a huge part of the process and it is the mother of beauty because if we contrive everything in art, at times it becomes very difficult to control the elements that we work with.

FAM: Do you have different meanings for the different paintings you work on?

BT: Yes I do! Every one of them has its individual meaning. The titles say a lot about them and a lot of my paintings deal with our process of thinking as humans, how we process information, the break down or the meaning of symbols for example, what the number 1 represents or what the question sign represents etc. As humans these things rule us and as an artist, when you take yourself back and see why these things are used you start questioning the higher meaning of symbols and as a result each painting represents that concept, where you create a different reality at some point but then at the end of the day you as an artist have to use colours to create some other kind of meaning.

FAM: Would you say being an artist or a painter more precisely is celebrated in Africa?

BT: I think it is. If you look at the history of African art from the tribal perspectives, people who carved for royal families and people who did the dresses for rituals were very close to royalty as such these people were looked upon with great respect. They were considered to be were better than hunters because they worked closely with the royal courts to create attires for them to represent the culture. They were very important people. Today it has been relegated to the background but being crafty is still revered in Africa. To the Westerner, it means a lot because they want to know the meaning behind such works and when you look for the meaning behind something in a sense you are giving a lot of importance to that thing.

FAM: Where can we go to purchase your paintings?

BT: I have a website www.takembaiyee.com and my paintings are also in several galleries in San Francisco and Santa Barbara. I’ll be having a showing in England in the near future, God-willing. I’m just a novice, I’m still learning, art is a process and until the day I die I will be painting. There’s no relaxation, there’s no complacence. I just have to keep doing to become better at what I do.

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